And finally, I was able to whittle it all down to a list of titles I most wanted to see in print. One got eliminated because a reprint was already in the planning stages from another publisher, and one or two more got eliminated because the list was, predictably, a bit too long to be feasible. But we settled on nine books that I absolutely love and that indubitably deserve to be in print (not that I'm biased or anything).
And I've actually reviewed every last one of them! True, I only rushed in the last couple of reviews in the past month or two, but still. So the titles of each book below link back to my review, in case you missed them before. I'm also including some fun blurbs, photos, covers, etc., some of which I've come across in delving into my new newspapers.com subscription.
But now, without further ado…
I mentioned in my teaser that I had tried to represent all the phases of the war, so we have two titles focused on the approach and/or the earliest days of the war, two of what could definitely be called "blitz lit", two from the later days of the war, two set in the days and months immediately following the end of the war, and one very special memoir.
I try not to play favorites with the titles we publish—obviously I love them all or we wouldn't be publishing them—but ROMILLY CAVAN's gorgeous Beneath the Visiting Moon (1940) is something special no matter how you slice it. My review compared it to Diana Tutton's Guard Your Daughters and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, and I stand by that bold claim. An eccentric family tale and a poignant widening world story, it's a witty novel richly peopled with delightful characters yet also permeated by the ominous approach of war.
You had to know that CAROLA OMAN's Nothing to Report (1940) would be on this list. Tied for the top spot in my Furrowed Middlebrow Dozen last year, this hilarious novel is the story of upper-crust village life beginning to come to terms with the approach of war. I made another bold comparison of this one to E. M. Delafield's Provincial Lady novels, and I stand behind that claim too!
I reviewed MARJORIE WILENSKI's Table Two (1942) almost three years ago, and I always knew I'd love to reprint it given a chance. Obviously, here's the chance. A rare portrayal of women office workers, the novel follows an office of women translators at the fictional Ministry of Foreign Intelligence. It's as biting and funny as Barbara Pym at her crankiest, which is not inappropriate, since Pym herself mentions reading it in her diaries!
Interestingly, although our other blitz novel doesn't feature an office of women, it was written by an author who was later known, in Persephone's words, for "presiding over a very happy all-women office" when she became an editor at Doubleday. What BARBARA NOBLE offers instead in The House Opposite (1943) is a riveting, extraordinarily detailed and vivid drama of life during the Blitz, drawn undoubtedly from her own experiences living and working in London throughout the war. I think it's one of the most important social documents to come out of the war.
Moving on to the later years of the war brings us to our second CAROLA OMAN title, Somewhere in England (1943), an irresistible sequel to Nothing to Report, mentioned above. Here, familiar faces from the earlier novel, as well as new acquaintances, are shown doing war work, engaging in new muddles and romances, and encountering bombs with their own unique flair.
|Elizabeth Burton, aka Susan Alice Kerby|
Works from late in the war are often a bit darker than the gung-ho stiff-upper-lip stories of its early days. By 1945, the end of the war was in sight, but meanwhile the fatigue, deprivation, and frustration dragged on. Which is why SUSAN ALICE KERBY's Miss Carter and the Ifrit (1945) is such an extraordinary pleasure. We clearly see and feel that the war has become an endurance test for the novel's charming heroine, but then we have the fun of seeing her freed from some of her constraints by the sudden arrival of an energetic, well-meaning, but slightly overenthusiastic Ifrit in her living room.
And then we have that utterly unique, brief time just after the war ended, when people were adapting to the radical changes in daily life that peace brought in its wake. In many cases, their old lives were gone or irrevocably changed, and they themselves had often (perhaps especially women) been changed in the process. It was a fleeting period, and almost immediately authors and publishers began to focus on books that made little or no mention to the war. Only a few novels appeared in this climate that were specifically focused on documenting these adjustments and this way of life. Fortunately, we're reprinting two of the very best!
BARBARA BEAUCHAMP's Wine of Honour (1946) focuses particularly on the experiences of women who have been in the services and are now returning to their more ordinary home lives in a quiet English village. It's an incomparable, fly-on-the-wall vision of a fascinating time and place.
Some of the women in JOSEPHINE KAMM's Peace, Perfect Peace (1947) are also returning from the services, and here at center stage are the difficulties of a young mother whose children have lived with her mother-in-law for the duration and who now finds her relations with them strained. Like Wine of Honour, Peace, Perfect Peace is packed with fascinating details about life in the months just after the war's end—rationing, barbed wire entanglements on the beach, and the omnipresence of dust from bombed out buildings (not to mention the difficulties of buying a dress!).
But that only makes eight books, you say? Well, how about if we throw in one of the most charming memoirs to ever come out of a war?
By turns hilarious, poignant, and harrowing (and occasionally all three at once), VERILY ANDERSON's Spam Tomorrow is—alongside Frances Faviell's A Chelsea Concerto, which I was also thrilled to be able to reprint—one of my absolute favorite World War II memoirs. Verily married her husband Donald in the days just before the war, and the book takes her through an impromptu wedding, a bout with German measles in a hospital evoking a medieval torture chamber, and the birth of her first child in the midst of a bombing raid, all the way to V-E Day. It's the cherry on the top of this new batch of Furrowed Middlebrow books.
And that's that. I hope you're half as excited about this selection of books as I am!
In the next few weeks, I should be able to share the cover art for these books. I've already caught a glimpse of a couple of them and I can tell you I'm pleased as punch with how they're turning out. Rupert and the other folks at Dean Street Press are outdoing themselves! Stay tuned!